Bill aims to extend hours for liquor sales

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

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kvue.com

Posted on March 19, 2013 at 6:15 PM

AUSTIN -- At Urban Wine + Liquor in downtown Austin, shelves are lined with sought-after spirits from around the world. Manager and operator Buckley Wineholt is there to give customers the tour every day except Sunday. 
 
"We're not a Monday through Friday business," explained Wineholt, whose store on Austin's bustling Congress Avenue sits neatly between downtown office buildings and high rise residential condominiums. "We work very hard on Saturday, so Sunday is a day to recharge and refresh, spend time with families and loved ones."
 
A new law aims to extend liquor sales to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. during the week and from noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays. The bill (HB 421) was filed by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), who says traditional "blue laws" limiting certain types of business on the biblical day of rest are outdated. 
 
"Tings change, a lot of people shop on Sunday," said Thompson. "That's become one of the biggest shopping days within our society, and people would like to buy on a Sunday as well as they can during the week."
 
"You can tote your beer home if you want to and you can tote your wine home, but you just can't tote your distilled spirits home on Sundays. You have to drink it where you buy it. That means at bars or restaurants," furthered Thompson. "Let them tote it home so when they get to drinking, they're not behind a steering wheel."
 
According to a report by the Legislative Budget Board, the extra day could bring the state nearly $8.5 million and local governments $2.5 million in additional revenue over the next two years. Supporters and opponents of the legislation packed a Tuesday hearing on alcohol-related bills before the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee.
 
Ben Jenkins with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States points out that 38 other states already allow liquor sales on Sunday, with 16 choosing to reverse Sunday restrictions over the last 10 years. The Washington, D.C.-based trade association represents thousands of distillers nationwide who believe there's money to be made by Texas following suit. 
 
"States around the country are modernizing outdated blue laws for a couple of reasons," said Jenkins. "One, to give small business owners more choice of when they can open. Two, to give additional convenience in a modern economy. And three, to add revenue to the treasury without increasing taxes." 
 
"Every state that's passed Sunday sales has seen an increase in revenue, annual revenue, in the neighborhood of five to seven percent with no negative social impact such as increased drunk driving or underage drinking," said Jenkins. "And that's very important."
 
"I think that there's probably a reason why liquor sales haven't been allowed here in Texas on Sundays," said Wineholt, who moved to Austin from Louisiana. "Having lived in New Orleans, I've seen what 24/7 liquor availability can do to a populace. It's not anything healthy."
 
"Really what it comes down to is responsible consumers of alcohol, if they know that they're going to be entertaining on Sunday for football games or whatnot, they buy up on Saturday," said Wineholt. "I just don't think that the responsible alcohol consumers are going to be the ones that are going to be taking advantage of this."
 
The crux of the debate lies in whether stores would be able to make enough extra money to justify being open another day. Many stores argue most customers would still buy the same amount spread over a greater number of days. 
 
"It would really cannibalize the six day sales week into seven days with additional cost and hassle for the retailers," said Wineholt. "The retailers I'm in communication with really don't think that this is going to benefit us. What would benefit us would be being able to stay open until 10 o'clock at night. Giving us an extra hour of sales in the evening would be far more beneficial to us." 
 
"You don't have to open on Sundays," countered Thompson. "Chick-fil-A doesn't open on Sundays but Whataburger doesn't stop selling chicken sandwiches because Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays." 
 
"All liquor stores would be open on Sundays, because they would have to just to stay in the mix to stand up to competitors," responded Wineholt. 
 
What mix lawmakers could have in store when it comes to alcohol sales remains to be seen.

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